Every year, the UN releases a World Happiness Report, a survey measuring the global happiness of countries around the world. The survey ranks over 150 countries by their happiness levels based on six unique factors: freedom, generosity, health, social support, income and trustworthy governance.
This year, Norway, home to roughly 5 million people, has earned the top spot. We just visited Oslo for three days back in September, and we realised we had a lot to learn about what exactly makes Norwegians so happy. Here is what we found.
1. How to be equal.
Norway is considered one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. Gay marriage has been legal since 2008, making it the first Scandinavian country and the sixth in the entire world to legalize same-sex marriage. Norway is also ranked in the top 5 on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, with equal numbers of women in the workforce as men. Women also hold 1 in 3 seats within government and political sectors, too. Also, mothers are allowed ten months of paid maternity leave. And fathers? Yes, them too.
2. How to be fair.
My first point brings me to the next point about Norway treating its people, like people. This goes for law-breaking people, too. Watching Michael Moore’s film, Where To Invade Next, helped shed a light on the way the incarceration system works in Norway. Conditions in Norwegian prisons aren’t set up to make inmates feel like prisoners, but rather people in need of rehabilitation and guidance who must be held responsible for their actions. The Norwegian mindset goes a little like this: the people in prison are going to be released eventually, right? So why not help them become better individuals who can work their way into society so that they don’t commit the same crimes again.
It makes sense considering Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, with only 20% of released prisoners being re-arrested. The restorative justice programs that Norway has implemented within their prison system has changed the way prison is regarded among its people.
3. How to Jante.
Scandinavian countries are all well-versed in the Law of Jante, which describes shaming people who boast too highly of their accomplishments and think too highly of themselves. In Norway, it’s called Janteloven. While it’s a bit outdated for modern society as it exists today, the principle is rooted in the idea of phasing out competition among people and feeling like a community instead. That’s not to say that Scandinavians today don’t do their best to stand out. Once considered taboo to think your achievements should earn you prestige and success, now when it does happen among its people, it’s celebrated and respected. Just look at all the Scandinavian music, fashion and design taking over the world.
4. How to Koselig.
You may have heard of hygge before, the untranslatable Danish word described as “coziness” or “togetherness” in English. Norwegians have their own equivalent, too. It’s called koselig. In Norway, anything can be koselig if you prepare enough. Koselig isn’t necessarily just being wrapped up in a blanket in front of the fireplace with a hot cuppa. It’s so much more than that. It can be evoked through people, conversation, decoration, dinner, even though a specific place. Koselig is anything that cultivates a feeling of warmth, security, comfort, and intimacy, which makes the concept much more appealing to anyone who isn’t Norwegian. Koselig is also great in that it isn’t just a winter thing, but an all-year-round natural feeling. It’s about setting the mood and making sure everyone and everything is comfortably feeling good.
5. How to appreciate the little things.
Something I (sneakily) forgot to mention was that, despite Norway being the happiest country in the world, it’s also one of the most expensive. But that doesn’t seem to matter nor make people complain. Why? It goes back to a few of the points I mentioned about everyone being equal to each other and the sense of community that Norwegians have for their neighbor and friends.
Which brings me to my last point. Scandinavians don’t need the newest iPhone or the most expensive car on the market, though they can probably afford both many times over. What’s most important to them, from what we gathered upon visiting, is being around family and friends, relaxing and working only as much as they need to in order to enjoy life. And that’s something many of us (me speaking as an American) tend to lose sight of in the constant pursuit of the “American Dream.” That’s not to say that Americans don’t love their family or enjoy good company. We do. We REALLY do. But sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want, and instead of remembering what is forever, we stress and think of the “what-ifs” and “could’ve been’s” that last minutes in life. It’s the little things and those meaningful life experiences that matter more. That “sense of community and understanding the common good” that make Norwegians so happy.
Michelle and I loved Norway from the little we saw of it, only visiting Oslo for a few days. But the good vibes, despite the high prices, make us certain we’ll be coming back to explore more of the happiest country in the world soon. And now that I’m living in Berlin, with Norway being an hour away, who knows? Maybe I’ll be back to experience the Northern Lights sooner than I think. So, until then.
Did I miss anything about Norway? What are your thoughts on the “Happiness” scale? Let us know in the comments below!